If telemarketing legends Billy Mays and Ron Popeil had run together for the presidency, I’m certain they would’ve won. At the very least, they would have had a solid lead heading into September. Why? Because national conventions are merely infomercials for the government. It’s the epitome of style over substance.
Like most infomercials, the products being sold aren’t particularly great. They’re not as revolutionary as they purport to be. They cost far more than you realize and they’ll probably break shortly after purchase. But nevertheless, we spend four nights for two consecutive weeks watching politicians make their best effort at putting lipstick on the pig that is their candidate.
I used to get upset that the conventions focused increasingly little on the actual substance of American politics. Instead, we’re treated to speech after speech from self-promoters who tell their personal story in an attempt to ingratiate themselves into American households. This way they can sell more books, get a TV show, or set themselves up to run for higher office in a few years.
It’s kind of like watching the Olympics. In an effort to gain mass appeal, networks like NBC show far less of the actual events than they did in the past. Instead, we’re subjected to pre-taped background stories that are supposed to make us care about whichever competitor the network has decided to promote.
But what about those of us who watch the Olympics for sporting purposes, rather than human interest stories? Similarly, what about those of us who care about American politics because of the actual policies, rather than caring about whether or not speaker three on night two of the convention was “the first person in their family to graduate college”? These conventions are a great reminder the policy matters little in politics.
If policies really did matter you would never see Bernie Sanders and John Kasich endorsing the same candidate at the same convention.
But Adam, they still write a party platform!
That’s true, but I’m increasingly convinced that platforms are written purely for humor purposes. Heck, George W. Bush’s platform stated, “We will preserve local control of public schools.” Fast forward a few months and the victorious W. invited Ted Kennedy to write an education bill that did exactly the opposite.
Donald Trump’s 2016 platform chided Barack Obama for nearly doubling the size of the national debt. Sounds a bit ironic in a world where the fiscally conservative Republicans are fighting to “only” add an additional $1 trillion of stimulus.
Obviously the GOP doesn’t have a monopoly on empty campaign promises. Obama’s platform called for closing, “the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay.”’ While that might cause your eyes to roll a bit, keep in mind that the same platform said, “We believe that our Constitution, our courts, our institutions, and our traditions work.”
The silly part is that the media treat all of this as if it’s serious. For the most part, they slam any Republican promise as unrealistic or racist, while they celebrate any Democratic promise as brilliant and saintly.
Like many infomercials, the conventions usually feature the appearance of celebrities, mostly B or C list, of course. Old progressives have to pretend they know who Billie Eilish is while also pretending not to be surprised that Stephen Stills is alive in the year 2020. Still, this is a better task than pretending Clint Eastwood’s RNC “chair speech” made any sense at all.
A great irony is that the goal of most conventions is to exhibit the presidential candidate as if he or she is some sort of leader. But politicians aren’t leaders; they are followers. Politicians follow the polls, they follow the money, they follow the lobbyists, they follow the activists, they follow cultural trends, and most of all, they follow circumstances.
George W. Bush opposed nation-building…until 9/11.
Barack Obama opposed fiscal conservatism…until the sequester.
Donald Trump opposed “socialism”…until the pandemic.
Politics truly is the worst product with the best marketing. Every four years, we’re sold roughly the same product with a brand new spokesperson.
Adam Guillette is the President of Accuracy in Media, www.aim.org.